Biography of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks
An international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author and respected moral voice, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize in recognition of his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Described by H.R.H. The Prince of Wales as “a light unto this nation” and by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as “an intellectual giant”, Rabbi Sacks was a frequent and sought-after contributor to radio, television and the press both in Britain and around the world.
After stepping down as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth – a position he served for 22 years between 1991 and 2013 – Rabbi Sacks held a number of professorships at several academic institutions including Yeshiva University, New York University and King’s College London. Rabbi Sacks was awarded 18 honorary doctorates including a Doctor of Divinity conferred to mark his first ten years in office as Chief Rabbi, by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey.
Rabbi Sacks authored over 35 books. His most recent work, Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (2020), was a top ten Sunday Times bestseller and was published in North America on 1st September 2020 and was named as the 2020 ‘Book of the Year’ by the National Jewish Book Council. Other works include: Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence; The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning; The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations (winner of the Grawemeyer Prize for Religion in 2004 for its success in defining a framework for interfaith dialogue between people of all faith and of none); To Heal a Fractured World: The Ethics of Responsibility; and Radical Then, Radical Now (published as A Letter in the Scroll: On Being Jewish in North America), winner of a National Jewish Book Awards in 2000.
As a biblical scholar, Rabbi Sacks published a new English translation and commentary for the Koren Sacks Siddur, the first new Orthodox siddur in a generation, as well as powerful commentaries for the Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, Pesach, Shavuot, and Succot Machzorim. His Covenant & Conversation commentaries on the weekly Torah portion are read in Jewish communities around the world.
A renowned public speaker, Rabbi Sacks was often invited to deliver lectures and talks at prestigious academic institutions and venues around the world. His 2017 TED Conference talk, viewed almost two million times, was listed by TED’s founder and curator Chris Anderson as one of the top ten talks of that year.
In recognition of his work, Rabbi Sacks received, among others, the Jerusalem Prize in 1995 for his contribution to diaspora Jewish life, The Ladislaus Laszt Ecumenical and Social Concern Award from Ben Gurion University in Israel in 2011, The Guardian of Zion Award from the Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies at Bar-Ilan University in 2014, and The Katz Award in recognition of his contribution to the practical analysis and application of Halacha in modern life in Israel in 2014. He was named as The Becket Fund’s 2014 Canterbury Medalist for his role in the defence of religious liberty in the public square; won a Bradley Prize in 2016 in recognition of being “a leading moral voice in today’s world”; and in 2017, he was awarded the Irving Kristol Award from the American Enterprise Institute for his “remarkable contributions to philosophy, religion, and interfaith discourse… as one of the world’s greatest living public intellectuals.” In 2018, he was given the Lifetime Achievement Award by The London Jewish News in recognition of his services to the Jewish world and wider society.
Rabbi Sacks was knighted by Her Majesty The Queen in 2005 and made a Life Peer, taking his seat in the House of Lords in October 2009. Born in 1948 in London, he married Elaine in 1970. Together they raised three children.
Rabbi Sacks passed away on 7th November 2020, aged 72. He leaves behind a legacy as one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, one who bridged the religious and secular world through his remarkable and ground-breaking canon of work.
Explore key moments of Rabbi Sacks’ life and career in more detail.